BREATH is Australian actor Simon Baker’s directorial debut based on the multi-award winning author Tim Winton’s novel of the same name. Besides directing, maker also shares producing and co-writing credit with Winton.
The film is set in the 1970s and two teenage boys form a connection with an older surfer, Sando played by Baker himself. The boys Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence) have grown up in a small western Australian town and through surfing meets up with Sando, who challenges them to take greater and more dangerous risks.
BREATH shows an all white world where no Aborigines or other minorities appear. The Australians on display are pure white, golden blonde hair engaging in a general all white male sport. Baker’s film contains repeated explicitly graphic sex scenes with Pikelet and Sando’s girlfriend Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) once Sando has abandoned them. The film and novel title BREATH comes from a kinky sex play the two indulge in. But Samson is only 14, the age he admits when asked at the beginning of the film. What is displayed on screen various times amounts to accepted pedophilia The film runs into problems in the second half once Sando is gone from the picture. Baker’s film lacks the spark it had and slags towards the end.
Understandably, the film’s best moments are the surfing segments, even when the philosophy of the sport is explained. “Paddle, turn and commit, without a moment of doubt.” The science of the sport is also explained at one point by Sando. He explains the contiental shelf, the girth and the pursuit of the right wave. At best, both the fear and exhilaration of the sport are demonstrated simultaneously.
The two young actors Coulter and Spence are real finds and make the movie. Veteran Australian actor Richard Roxburgh has a small role as Mr. Pike, the father.
The surf scenes are nothing short of stunning, credit to cinematographers Marden Dean and Rick Rifici. One wonders how the camera gets so close to capturing the action, with the smoothness of the waves. The audiences gets to see the surfers paddling out into the sea, the wave slowly forming and the surfers standing up on their boards, as the wave grows gigantic behind them. These magnificent scenes create a high not only for the surfers but for the audience as well. The stung landscapes are also on display in the film – the magnificent cliffs, rocks, sea and vegetation.
The film is tied together by the voiceover from start to end, supposedly the adult voice of Pikelet, bringing meaning to the story. The film is basically the coming-of-age story of Pikelet. His friendship with the rather uncontrollable wild-card, Loonie is also given due importance.
BREATH ends up an occasionally uplifting though flawed film about boyhood in an all white male surf setting. At the start of the film, surf is described by the voiceover as beautiful, pointless and elegant. The film BREATH can certainly described using the same three terms.